To catalogue all the lies being tossed around during this ugly election campaign season would be a daunting task. No one is immune; lying and exaggerations are common to all–presidential and non-presidential.
However, I will attempt to classify the crazy claims of one side against another, by simply revealing types of fallacies frequently used.
Ad Hominem. Literally, “to the man.” Remember when you were a kid and argued with a sibling or best friend? You couldn’t defend yourself against your opponent’s sharp tongue, so you got fed up and said something like, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re stupid.” Ouch. That immediately takes attention off of the argument at hand and turns into a defense of one’s intellect. Politicians who want to deflect attention from their own record will quickly resort to ad hominem attacks of their opponents. Thus the argument becomes one of character, not substance.
Ad Baculum: This one means “to the stick.” If you cannot convince someone with the truth, then use the veiled threat, or perhaps just a plain, open threat. How about the one that Democrats have trotted out time and again: If the Republicans win this election, old people will have to eat dog food in order to pay for their prescriptions; children will starve because the school lunch program will end; the water will be poisoned; the air will be unbreathable. This kind of fallacy got center stage during Clinton’s campaign against Dole.
Appeal to pity: This one not only covers the above smear Clinton’s side perpetrated, but it goes deep to touch the heartstrings of a soft-hearted American public. This is when both sides trot out the families whose lives have been touched by the wonderful candidate for office. It happens when candidates bring out some hard-luck cases whose lives will be even worse if an opponent wins. Those sad-faced pictures of starving children and bed-ridden seniors are sure to tug at your emotions. But what have they got to do with the case at hand?
Ad populum: If you can’t get them with pity, go after your audience’s need to follow the crowd. Cite popularity polls, then conclude that if so many people want a, b, and c, then everyone else does too. Not too many people want to go against the flow, so they will certainly join the crowd. Never mind that this has nothing to do with the big issues that need addressing. Ad populum also appeals to a common bias or prejudice, such as racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, and such. “If you don’t want to be called a bigot or racist, then you will vote for ________.” One side in this year’s presidential race accused the other side of trotting out people of color just to seem like they weren’t racists. Never mind that this side wants to have people of color give some speeches too. If this side does it, it’s not racist. If the other side does…
Straw Man: Oversimplifies an opponent’s argument before refuting it. The fallacy is committed when a person ignores his opponent’s “actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position” (http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html).
Bulverism: This fallacy is pretty simple. You shut down the debate by oversimplifying and judging the character of your opponent. This is a subset of ad hominem. This one says “It figures you would say that; you are a Christian” or “You Republicans are all bigots; I’m not going to listen to a word that comes out of your mouths” or “All Democrats are left-wing liberal nut-jobs.” You have dismissed the validity of an opponent by lumping him in with a broad category.
Big Lie Technique (also “Staying on Message”): “The contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, slogan or deceptive half-truth over and over (particularly in the media) until people believe it without further proof or evidence. E.g., ‘What about the Jewish Question?’ Note that when this particular phony debate was going on there was no ‘Jewish Question,’ only a ‘Nazi Question,’ but hardly anybody in power recognized or wanted to talk about that.” Or most recently, one side accused the other of wanting to drain Medicare. That lie was repeated over and over until the other side launched a counter-offensive, accusing the first side of doing that very thing. But that lie was repeated often enough that it took on a life of its own, and many folks see it as the truth now. (Quoted material from http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/ENGL1311/fallacies.htm)
Non sequitur: This one means “does not follow.” Whatever conclusions a politician comes up with in his push for election, do not make sense in light of what he has said before. Take this crazy one for example:
Obviously there is much, much more wrong with this than a non-sequitur fallacy. What do you think?